German-American probate law and estate planning

German-American Probate Law and Estate Planning

Together with our U.S. partner law firms we advise American clients residing in Germany or having property in Germany on all aspects of German-American inheritance law, both in English and in German. Our German offices (Berlin, Hamburg, Munich) are staffed with German lawyers (Rechtsanwalt) and U.S. attorneys that are fluent in English and German. We consult with a view towards the overall tax and civil law situation. Our services include:

German-American Estate Planning

We frequently advise clients from common law jurisdictions in all matters connected with international estate planning, including, but not limited to:

  • Reviewing existing wills
  • Designing and drafting both U.S. wills and German testaments
  • Structuring U.S.-based trusts to avoid or minimize German estate, inheritance or gift tax liabilities
  • Advising on the use of Payable on Death accounts and the appointment of successor beneficiaries to allow for the transfer of assets outside of probate
  • Advising on U.S. federal estate tax and the German-American Double-Taxation Treaty controlling the states and double taxation
  • Preparing living wills and health care proxies for both the U.S. and Germany

Support for executors or trustees of U.S. estates in Germany

We advise and assist clients acting as executors or trustees of U.S. estates or trusts with assets in Germany and/or having German heirs. Our services include:

  • Obtaining recognition of validity from German probate courts for U.S. wills and the issuance of German Letters Testamentary (“Testamentsvollstreckerzeugnis”) for U.S. executors;
  • Assistance with obtaining German Certificate of Heirship (“Erbschein”) for American heirs;
  • Providing legal representation for U.S. heirs, beneficiaries, executors, administrators and trustees of estate) in connection with obtaining assets held by German banks, insurance companies and financial institutions, passing both through or outside of probate;
  • Assistance with the preparation and filing of German estate, inheritance, and gift tax returns for American estates, heirs and beneficiaries to ensure recognition of payments of U.S. gift and estate taxes (federal and state) in Germany and deduction of such payments from any German estate, inheritance and gift tax liabilities;
  • Representing U.S. executors, administrators, heirs, beneficiaries and trustees before German probate courts and taxation authorities, including obtaining tax clearance for the release of German assets passing to U.S. heirs and beneficiaries and defending against claims of unwarranted German estate, inheritance and gift taxes;
  • Consulting regarding the structuring and timing of distributions from U.S. trusts by U.S. trustees to German resident beneficiaries to minimize any German estate, inheritance and gift tax liabilities.

Support for Estate/Probate Proceedings in the U.S.

We also advise clients U.S. probate proceedings on any questions pertaining to German inheritance law.  Our services include providing Affidavits in Foreign Law (German Law) and Legal Opinions on German law in foreign contentious probate proceedings. 

Representation of U.S. clients in Contentious probate proceedings in Germany

We represent U.S. beneficiaries as well as executors and trustees in contentious probate proceedings in German courts, e.g.

  • Forced heirship claims under German law (Pflichtteil),
  • Will contest on the grounds of Undue Influence and Lack of Mental Capacity,
  • Dissolution of community of co-heirs (Erbengemeinschaft),
  • Dismissal/removal of executors,
  • Contentious Determination of heirs (Erbenfeststellungklage) or
  • Injunctions.

Representation in Contentious Trust matters

Although no trusts exist under German law in the strictest sense, there are some German legal instruments that are similar to Trusts (e.g. Dauertestamentsvollstreckung, Vor- und Nacherbschaft, Stiftung, Treuhand) and German courts may interpret foreign trusts the equivalent of German legal instruments. We represent U.S. beneficiaries as well as Trustees in German courts, e.g

  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty,
  • Accounting,
  • Removal of Trustee (z.B. “Dauertestamentsvollstrecker”),
  • Trust Modification or
  • Trust Termination.
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Of course, you can also call us directly to make an appointment for a personal consultation or telephone consultation (find contact details here). All potential clients will be informed in advance of any costs that may be incurred during the initial consultation

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